IS BIGGER always better?
Not if it’s a boil on your neck, obviously, or a bear that’s attacking you, but when it comes to cars (and televisions) the accepted wisdom is that more of everything is our global desire.
It was interesting, therefore, to drive the new Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG 4Matic just one day after the world launch of the angry C63 S, which has embiggened itself to a colossal 375kW and 700Nm.
The C450 is very much ‘AMG lite’ by comparison, and priced at a more aspirational customer (no official word, but we’re tipping about $110,000) who can’t quite stretch to more than $150K.
Theoretically, the ‘cheap’ AMG is relatively puny, with just 270kW and 520Nm from its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6. And while it makes a fine selection of spirited, slightly whiney noises – with some charming crackle backfires on the overrun – it does sound meek after the mad metal sounds of the C63. Switching to the C450 is like going from Metallica to Mumford and Sons.
In isolation, on a different day, I’m sure it sounds sporty, which would reflect its character. Less powerful and cheaper it might be, but on the brilliant, climbing and spiralling roads of Portugal where we drove it, I would choose the V6 model because it simply felt more competent, better weighted, less intimidating and more fun than the barking V8 C63 S.
On a drag strip, of course, it would be embarrassed, being almost a second slower to 100km/h than the big-daddy AMG, at a still spry 4.9sec (0.1sec quicker than BMW’s M235i).
Theoretically, it also loses some driver involvement by being all-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel slidey. But the 4Matic system is so clever you really don’t lose much aside from lurid drifting action, with its standard rear-biased torque set-up of 33:67 providing both balance and fun.
With its full 520Nm available from 2000rpm to 4200rpm, the C450 proves more than fast enough to frighten the hell out of yourself as you whip from short straight to unfamiliar hairpin corner. It’s so stable, sharp and easy to control, however, that you just keep pushing harder, because getting better at driving it is so easy.
AMG’s Ride Control is a brilliant system, understeer is near imperceptible, and the steering is almost flawless, except that it could do with a trip to the gym. More weight and more feedback would be welcome, which AMG can do brilliantly; witness the SLS.
After two days of joyous driving, I was not the only one who dared to whisper that they’d choose the ‘lite’ C450 AMG and pocket the change. You certainly lose little in terms of interior sparkle, which is C-Class impeccable, and the ride is more forgiving of bumps, and would be better day to day.
The C63 S would make you wake up in the morning thinking about shredding your licence, and it will drink like an oilaholic (regardless of what the official figures say) while the C450 won’t be quite as far away from its claimed 7.6L/100km. It’s also the kind of performance you can live with; there when you need it, but not shouting in your ear every day on the commute.
The problem is, you’ll have to wait, because the C450 AMG won’t arrive on our shores until next year, despite already being available in Europe.
If it does manage to arrive at around the $110,000 mark, it will be a tempting proposition.
If there’s one area where bigger isn’t better, it’s price.
Benz’s clever mouse/touchpad/ track ball operation system is a far better solution than Lexus’s haptic touch system, or the BMW and Audi systems. It manages to work simply, feel great and even look classy.
Nice little sporty touch of carbonfibre (probably not the real stuff) in the centres of the C450’s speedo and tacho dials. A bit more around the cabin would have been nice instead of the plasticky-wood trim, too.
Is it just me or is there something Japanese about the C’s rear end? It’s a bit derivative and a bit sharp for a Benz, but it does perform the neat trick of making the car seem smaller when approached from behind.
EXPECT to see plenty more vehicles forming an AMG e-lite group. You won’t hear anyone describing them as cheap, though; they’re simply “aimed at a broader customer base” and provide “an attractive point of entry into the world of AMG”.
A GLE450 AMG will be unveiled in September, with an E450 AMG to follow, possibly next year.
Mercedes’ growth in Australia has been astonishing. Who would have believed, even five years ago, that it would be in our top 10 for sales (as in November 2014), with one in 10 being a performance variant?
Australia is AMG’s biggest global market per capita, and the fifth-largest in total volume.
SEDAN practicality with AWD and serious stonking ability; it’s as if Audi was expecting this particular challenge from Mercedes-Benz.
The supercharged S4 is the quiet achiever in this little niche, and definitely at its best with $4700 worth of sports steering and diff.
THE battle between the Benz, the S4 and this highly enjoyable BMW might be too close to call, but you can bet the 335i’s rear-drive layout and more tactile steering would arouse plenty of comment.
But you have to go for the M Sport pack to look the business, which, surprisingly, is a no-cost option.